Just before Niger coupists, ECOWAS war begins
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As the specter of direct military confrontation with Niger Republic hangs over our heads, it is important to draw the attention of Nigerian leaders to the following set of facts:
- The coup in Niger Republic was primarily the result of internal Nigerien politics that started as a power struggle between then incumbent president Muhammad Bazoum and his predecessor and benefactor Muhammadu Issofou, culminating in the former’s attempt to sack the head of the powerful presidential guards General Tchiani (who’s Issoufou’s ally). Gen. Tchiani moved against Bazoum, then negotiated power with the regular army to complete their coup.
- Faced with widespread international condemnation, the coup leaders hopped on anti-French sentiments in their attempt to gain widespread support and build some semblance of local legitimacy. They exploited the historic distrust and deep resentment against French presence and influence in Africa, especially with the recent bouts of French expulsion in Mali and Burkina Faso. Their tactics proved to be hugely successful in mobilizing popular support for the takeover.
- France cannot afford to lose Niger after suffering key geopolitical setbacks across the Sahel. On the other hand, Russia is seeking to exploit French Sahelian decline by shoring up its presence in Africa in order to shake-off western sanctions and growing isolation over its war in Ukraine. Niger is crucial to France’s energy security and is becoming its last bastion of influence in the Sahel.
- For France, it is determined to do whatever it takes to stop Wagner push into Niger Republic. America is fully behind France, and the two western powers currently have about 2500 troops in their military bases in Niger Republic. This opens up another proxy conflict between the West and Russia(each with their respective allies), bringing a cold-war style geopolitical tussle directly to Nigeria’s doorstep, with all its awful consequences.
- Both camps have their different motivations. While the western alliance couched their intervention under the guise of restoring democratic order, the Russian side present their case as helping African countries defend against western imperialism and neocolonialism. With rising anti-western sentiments sweeping through Black Africa, public opinion is decidedly on the side of the coupists.
- President Tinubu should understand that Nigeria’s overarching objective is not ‘restoring Nigerien democracy,’ whatever that means. Nigeria’s overriding interest is in preserving the peace and stability of the West African subregion. Because, Nigeria – more than any country – will bear the direct and indirect costs of military intervention and the resulting instability in the subregion.
- None of France, US or Russia, which are all thousands of kilometers from Niger Republic will bear the ugly consequences of military intervention, except holding peace talks in European capitals and making hollow declarations at UN Security Council meetings. Both sides are only willing to fight each other using Africans as cannon fodder. President Tinubu and the ECOWAS should not allow that to happen.
- I strongly agreee that the coup in Niger Republic should not be allowed to stand. But it is important to understand the full consequences of military intervention, especially when the bulk of its military manpower and resources is coming from Nigeria, at a time is also battling armed insurgencies on three fronts (BH, bandits, Ipob). I believe there are other deft measures to explore to deny the coupists the fruit of their military adventurism and hasten Niger’s return to stability and civil rule.
- Niger has a bigger landmass than Nigeria, it is our buffer against Libya and they have been an important ally in the fight against terrorism through the multi-national joint task force. If the new leaders could guarantee cooperation on this all-important area, we should care less about how the country is governed. After all, US openly endorsed the 2012 coup in Egypt in order to protect its security interests in the middle-east. Both US and France have a long and horrible record of supporting coupists and dictatorships when it suit their interests.
- As I wrote few days ago, I applaud President Tinubu’s strong leadership in ECOWAS, but falling into the trap of military intervention against the Niger junta will inadvertently do the biddings of US and France, usher the Libyanization of Niger, worsen instability across the Sahel, exacerbate domestic instability and leave a legacy of death and destruction that would continue to echo long after he leaves office.
- Military intervention will plunge the whole region into conflict. At a time Nigerians are facing one of the worst cost of living crisis and economic hardships precipitated by fuel subsidy removal and currency floatation, an international conflict of that magnitude could easily spiral into social crisis, precipitating a domestic upheaval that could endanger our own democracy.
- The best way for Nigeria is to play the role of a broker, similar to the role Turkey is playing in Russia-Ukraine conflict. President Tinubu can adopt the position of soft rejection, that is, rejecting the coup, imposing sanctions against the junta, delegitimizing the coup regime, putting maximum pressure while stopping short of military action. That way, the door of dialogue remains open, deterrence is somewhat imposed, and regional stability is preserved, while developing concrete measures to prevent similar interventions in other fragile democracies within the region.
- I know some conflict entrepreneurs are trying to portray the proposed military intervention as a walk in the park, considering the relative strengths of our militaries and the availability of US and France military assets within and around Niger. Those trying to sell the intervention with the false promise of a quick military victory boosting President Tinubu’s international standing should remember how the Saudis and their impulsive crown prince flopped in Yemen under similar assumptions.
- No doubt our forces can dislodge the coupists within days, but our actions will leave a security vacuum that’s impossible to fill, one that will require heavy and long-term military deployment. In short, we will end up reinstating Bazoum only in name, while losing Niger Republic – and with it – the security and stability of the Sahel region. Wisdom is profitable to direct.
Ahmed Musa Hussaini
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